Off-Grid Lesson #2: Pleading Doesn’t Affect the Laws of Physics

Propane Generator, Part… I’ve lost track. @#$%! generator.

It was New Year’s Eve, and my last day of work at my day job. I had to be in Denver by 10:00am.

I had to go here.

I had to go here.

The day before, I’d started to get a little concerned about the trip, since the County Road that takes me the three miles from my house to the highway hadn’t been plowed since before Christmas. In that week, we’d had snow…and more snow…and some wind and more snow…topped off by some frigid temps so low the thermometer just read “Freaking Cold” (except the thermometer didn’t say “freaking.” Quite a mouth on that thing). When the plow finally went by at 3:00 p.m., I did a little happy shuffling jig.

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Around midnight, I was woken by the sound of the propane generator starting. With a smile (I love auto-start), I started to doze off again, when the generator gave a sputtering wheeze and stopped. I, in turn, stopped smiling. I rolled out of bed, pulled my coat on over my pajamas, stuck bare feet into my boots, grabbed my hat and headlamp (best invention ever), and headed out to check the generator.

New generator...doesn't work.

New generator…doesn’t work.

The extent of my repair abilities (this goes for computers, generators, smart phones, small appliances, big appliances, and pretty much everything that has a start button) is to turn it off and then on again. Therefore, I did this to the generator. Each time, it made a valiant effort to start, only to give up after a few seconds. My limited fix-it skills are even more limited in the dark, especially when I’m sleepy and it’s cold, so I figured I’d fire up the old portable generator for twenty minutes or so. That way, it would give me enough power to keep hot water circulating through the floor for the night. The old generator gave a short groan and refused to even consider starting. Now I was worried that there was an issue with the main propane line, but my headlamp illuminated no obvious issues.

Old generator...doesn't start either. Uh-oh.

Old generator…doesn’t start either. Uh-oh.

Frustrated, I returned to the house and unplugged everything that wasn’t a refrigerator or involved in the process of heating the house. Climbing under my five blankets, I eventually fell asleep, thoughts of batteries shutting down and pipes freezing dancing in my head.

The next morning, I tried to start the generator again. Nothing. It didn’t even make an effort this time. I let the dogs out to roam the property while I was in Denver and went to start the truck. That wonderful engine turned over right away. I love my truck with the power of a thousand suns.

My truck that I love (and that holds lots of firewood).

My truck that I love (and that holds lots of firewood).

When the pickup thermometer showed negative 26 degrees, I got out of the truck, put the dogs back in the house so they didn’t freeze their toes,

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gave the generators a mental apology for blaming them for a scientific impossibility (apparently, it needs to be over negative 44 degrees Fahrenheit before propane turns into a vapor), and got back in the truck.

I survived the trip to Denver, said goodbye to the coworkers, turned over my work computer and headed home to start the new year fully self-employed and hermit-ized. Since it was a balmy negative two degrees when I got back to the house, I figured I’d give the generator another shot. I pushed the start button, and it chugged away happily, so I did another happy, shuffling jig. The dogs were excited to join me.

This is obviously clear proof that turning a piece of equipment off and on again enough times really does fix it.